Ohkay Owingeh, High Water Mark and UNM Create Sensors that Measure Rain and Flooding

Ohkay Owingeh, High Water Mark and UNM Create Sensors that Measure Rain and Flooding

Ohkay Owingeh, High Water Mark and UNM Create Sensors that Measure Rain and Flooding

This August, the Ohkay Owingeh board of Governors, and law enforcement and emergency officers from the Ohkay Owingeh pueblo, a team of UNM researchers, and engineers and scientists from High Water Mark LLC met to discuss effective ways to measure and communicate the flooding that occurs during emergencies.

The team working on this project includes a diverse group of researchers (educational psychology, hydrology and water resources, risk modeling and prediction, wireless smart sensor networks, remote sensing and GIS), which together with the support of the National Science Foundation, were awarded a one year project under the NSF CIVIC Innovation Challenge Competition.

Under this project, the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo community has been working with High Water Mark and UNM to design, build and implement their own Low-Cost Efficient Wireless Intelligent Sensors (LEWIS). These goal of the sensors is to inform communities of trends and thresholds that can assist in managing wildfires and providing early warning when fires and floods occur. This project aims to develop a Nationwide community of practice that shares ideas, designs, and applications for resilience in Tribal communities by co-developing capacity and decision-support tools.

The UNM team includes Cary Hushman, Mark Stone, Yolanda Lin, Su Zhang, and Fernando Moreu, PI of the project. Phoebe Suina is the lead of the CIVIC partner technical side, and Sybil Cota and Ben Lujan are the main leads at Ohkay Owingeh. Elandren Etlantus from BHI and Sreenivas Alampalli from Stantec provide technical input. Lynn Nordstrom acts as external evaluator. Elsa Castillo from the Student Success Service Center at UNM enables a broader impact of the educational activities from the School of Engineering. In this summer alone, they conducted six outreach activities with ESS to more than 150 students building LEWIS sensors.

The team is currently following the technical lead of High Water Mark LLC and their president Phoebe Suina, former LANL employee and nationwide leader in natural disaster prevention and response. Phoebe has been mentoring up to four interns from Ohkay Owingeh with this program. Additionally, HWM employees have identified new locations where to deploy LEWIS networks that can collect critical information to update the flooding models after the 2022 fires, including but not limited to Gallinas near Las Vegas and also Santa Clara Pueblo.

In the words of the PI of the project, Dr. Moreu, “the success of this community centered effort involves both the respect for the traditions of Ohkay Owingeh, by receiving the blessing of the Governor at the start of each meeting, and giving the leadership to Ohkay Owingeh’s Youth, by hiring Ohkay Owingeh interns who co-lead the deployments and selection of sensors. For example, Lauren is now close to a year in the team and is leading the teaching of low-cost sensors in various outreach events. Julian assisted this summer in several sensor deployments and trained and worked with visitors from Taiwan and Puerto Rico.”

On September 22nd the CIVIC team will present the results of their work this year at Washington DC and are currently searching for federal and state sources of support to establish their own start up venture that is focused on cyber-secured sensors networks for Tribal deployments. This is a new approach to smart communities that is critical for this technology, motivated for the importance to protect the data and sovereignty of Pueblo Government. The team has already deployed sensors with signs in both English and Tewa on their locations to ensure the community is informed on the activity.

All the steps on their various monitoring locations are coordinated with Ohkay Owingeh Government, who are informing the team now about designs of alarms that can be activated without internet or phone signal in the critical events where there is no communication and residents need to be informed of certain levels of risk. According to Moreu, “on the last workshop designing alarm messages, the emergency officers told us how they need to go house by house since they lose any phone signal at all. Their input gave us an idea to co-design with them a local serene or horn that can be of value under such circumstances for specific neighborhoods in the village. By asking the owner what is what they want, science and technology can better help. We prefer to design and fabricate their specifications, which in turn will have a higher impact in smart and connected communities research.”

Moreu summarizes: “the main objective in smart communities research is that the research team is following the lead of the community, and giving the community members the role of designers of the “smartness” of the solution. The program managers at NSF indicated this early on the project. The knowledge of Ohkay Owingeh and High Water Mark on the region, past flooding, and their emergency officers involvement telling us what they actually would like to see… indicates that we are supporting new science and technology that is made by Ohkay Owingeh. Phoebe told me that in their culture, they prefer to let the children bring the new knowledge, new solutions. I am looking forward to see the new solutions that students and Ohkay Owingeh Youth brings. They are the future of smart communities and their solutions will impress us all.”

The progress of their work has been highlighted in various local and national media outlets, including a national podcastWinds Of Change, and Albuquerque News.